June 13, 2016

North To Alaska

Seward's Folly. The Land of The Midnight Sun, The Last Frontier, are slogans that have been attached to Alaska. After returning from a cruise to our 49th state, I will add one more: unbelievably beautiful. The weather was mostly rainy, cold, cloudy or foggy, yet the state's power and majesty were impossible to hide.


As one of things we are doing this year to celebrate our 40th anniversary, Betty and I took the Crown Princess roundtrip from Seattle to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and a quick stop in Victoria, British Columbia. 

Officially, I am now in love with cruising. We had been on a cruise ship several years ago, but nothing of the scale and glamour of this floating city. Our stateroom was almost 240 square feet, with a queen bed, good-sized balcony with chairs and a table, lots of storage space, and a closet bigger than the one in our master bedroom at home. The shower was hot and the bathroom well equipped. Frankly, I wouldn't have changed a thing about the room even if I could. It took me two days to feel comfortable with the ship's layout and how to best use our time - then, I was hooked.

Nearly a dozen different dining options and nearly as many lounges and bars, Vegas quality night time shows, comedians, musical groups, educational seminars and lectures, movies outside by one of four pools, a putting course, library, and full fitness center made it impossible to feel bored.


One of several lounges

850 seat theater

relaxing in the library, filled with books, games, and Alaska guidebooks


We left the ship in Juneau for an excursion to a rain forest garden, glacier, and then up a tram for a stunning view of the harbor and the four massive cruise ships docked at the smallish harbor. In Skagway we took a bus into Canada's Yukon Territory. A mother black bear and her three cubs posed for us along the side of the highway. Returning to town on an old fashioned railroad train, more bear cubs scampered on the hillside. All the while, we were surrounded by massive, snow-covered mountains, lakes, and streams with water pure enough to drink.


Coming into Juneau


our ship in Juneau



A rain forest in Alaska? Yes!

Bundled up at Mendenhall Glacier
The Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau



Heading to Skagway



Glacier Bay is home to several, shrinking glaciers that tower up to 250 feet over the iceberg dappled water, or almost twice as high as our massive ship. We came within several hundred feet of the edge and were treated to the "calving" of several icebergs that broke from the edge of the glacier with a noise of loud cracking and booming just like thunder. The ship pivoted 360 degrees so everyone on both sides of the ship had the same spectacular view.


Arriving at Glacier Bay



Ketchikan is the rainiest town in Alaska, with 150 inches on average, so being there in wet weather is not unusual. It is a true fishing port, but also hosted four massive ships during our daylong visit. Because of the conditions we did not get to see the nearby fjords. Instead, we bought souvenirs and gifts for family. Late in the afternoon, I spotted three small whales just a 100 yards away from my seat on our balcony. 


Rainy Ketchikan


The stop in Victoria was for only a few hours, but the skies had cleared so we spent a perfect evening on one of the highest spots on the ship, photographing a perfect sunset and watching a video on the massive movie screen by one of the swimming pools. 


Night time in Victoria
Betty talked me into taking a suit so we could take part in formal night, an evening when many of our fellow passengers dressed up to enjoy a first class meal in one of several plush dining rooms. For daytime and other nights, blue jeans, shirts, sweaters, or even sweatshirts were perfectly acceptable. We also had our picture taken 60 times (I know, I counted!). The pictures we brought home were the best ever taken of us as a couple. 

If you haven't taken an Alaskan cruise, I strongly recommend it. If you have, you can probably relate to our reaction to the seven day experience. Here are a sampling of some more of the nearly 1,500 photos that Betty and I snapped with a camera and our phones.


Our one sunny day - perfect for exploring the Yukon























Finally, the obvious choice to close out the post: Johnny Horton's 1960 hit song




I am already looking at more cruise possibilities next year!


Next time, maybe warmer?


36 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your photos, Bob! We're taking this same cruise in July 2017. It will be our first time on a ship and now you have me so excited! One thing I didn't realize is that we will need such warm outerwear in the summer. I guess we'll be doing some shopping this winter!

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    1. It will be a bit warmer in July, at least by Alaskan standards. The answer is "layers." But, the mosquitoes will be in full flight so staying covered up is still a good idea on land.

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  2. Looks terrific! Alaska is one of our favorite states. Your photos brought back tons of memories. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. I couldn't see myself living there - too cold and too isolated. But, to visit? I'd go back on this cruise in a second.

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  3. So happy you both enjoyed! Alaska is so beautiful and wild I think it might defy description, and simply need to be experienced.

    Your photos are so gorgeous, they have me itching to go again!

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    1. I would take this cruise again in late summer. Obviously, you can only scratch the surface because you only have time for one shore excursion in each town. There is so much to experience.

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  4. Glad you guys had a great time. Looks like the accommodations and food couldn't be better; happy for you.

    We haven't cruised since 1986 when Deb got violently sick on the Mexican Riviera cruise we were on. But she is going to prepare this time and suck it up for her 65th in a few years, when we will take a seven day voyage in the Eastern Caribbean. This one will be special since our daughter will be joining up as well as her fiance. We look forward to having as good a time as you and Betty did on this one.

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    1. Ships are very conscious of the risks of illness. Hand washing stations are there every time you turn around. In fact, the person handing you a plate and silverware in the buffet line won't do so unless she sees you use the Purell dispenser right at the entrance. Betty and I washed out hands, on average, every 60 minutes or so!

      Of course, spoiled food or a sick cook are always possibilities with 3,400 people in an enclosed space. But, with common sense care, I think you have pretty good odds of having an illness-free experience.

      Your outing with family will be great.

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  5. I'm so glad you and Betty had such a great trip! Yes, Alaska is truly unique and beautiful. I have great memories of my adventures there. Several folks in my family have taken Alaska cruises and no one has had a bad experience. Great photos!!

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    1. The cruise was certainly more relaxing than working in a canning factory!

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    2. Ha! Most anything would be! But everything else was wonderful!

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  6. Looks like a fantastic trip! Did you find any gold?

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  7. Great pics from a great vacation! Alaska was the first cruise for me and my wife and we loved it, too. We've now done about 25 cruises, mostly in the warmer regions(i.e. Caribbean) as they make for a nice break from our cold Canadian winters.

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    1. The Yukon Territory was stunning, and Canadian customs quick and pleasant. Yes, cruises can be a good way to change climates.

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  8. It looks beautiful! We usually cruise in the winter to get away from the cold, but I can see the attraction for you guys. The pics are great!!
    b

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    1. I think this cruise was the first time I wore the Yellowstone hoodie (in the last picture) in ten years.

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  9. Great pictures, makes me want to go back there! My wife & I have cruised to Alaska twice - we love it up there. So much, we are seriously looking into working up there for a summer or two after we retire from full time work.

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    1. It was our first trip to the 49th state, but I doubt it will be our last. I am just fascinated by the lack of connectedness. Juneau has a highway that runs 30 miles north of town and then stops. Going the other way, the route is only 5 miles long before it ends. Ketchikan is the same way: no roads that connect to the outside world. Skagway gets a barge once a week with all its food and supplies. There are less than 5,000 miles of paved roads in a state that is 2.5 times bigger than Texas. It is just so huge and empty.

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  10. Sounds like you've found a new passion - cruising! May this be the first of many.

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    1. We did love it. I am toying with the idea of a 28 day cruise from L.A. to the South Pacific and back next year!

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    2. Don't hesitate to book the South Pacific cruise. It will be the trip of a lifetime. Love your beautiful photos.

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  11. You guys only took 1500 photos!!??? Did Betty's camera break the first day?

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    1. That was rather light for her. But, how many pictures can you take through low clouds, fog, and sleet?

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  12. We might have crossed paths! My husband and I are exploring Alaska by RV, left in May and finally made Fairbanks last night. We took a side trip to Skagway. I've been on the Alaskan cruise and the ground version is even better!

    I would like to go on a cruise up the Atlantic seaboard and into Canada.

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    1. Was that you waving? Skagway is the only town the cruise ships visit that is actually accessible by road from other parts of the state or from Canada's Yukon Territory. An RV trip through such profound largeness must be stunning.

      We have looked at the cruises that visit Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Boston, too. That would be a beautiful trip in late summer.

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  13. So jealous but glad for you. Beautiful pictures.

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    1. Thanks, Barbara. By the way, I like your exhortation to be a pineapple on your blog!

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  14. Oh, this is great! I've been trying to get my DH to do an Alaskan cruise, as I hear nothing but wonderful reports of them. I'll be sharing these pics and your glowing review. Wish me luck!

    --Hope

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    1. It was great fun and awe-inspiring. Do it if you can.

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  15. My husband & I will be taking this cruise aboard the Island Princess in late July of this year. We are very excited! Our very 1st cruise was Oct 2 years ago on the Ruby Princess, to the upper New England coastline and into Canada. Beautiful!

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    1. You should love Alaska and it will certainly be warmer than for us!

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  16. Bob, I came upon your blog as I start my 3 yr transition into the 1st stage of my retirement, just to read the journeys and joys others have had doing the same. I'm excited about it. I read your entry about visiting my home STATE and was very impressed. I really enjoyed reading it.

    There are a couple views "from the other side of the channel" that may not apparent to visitors. Nor do they come across through reality TV. First, as an Alaskan, I (and most of my neighbors) feel that I LIVE IN HEAVEN. It is why we choose to be maybe 2000+ miles away from other family and friends. Then, it's supposed to be wet and cold, and we are saddened with it is getting warmer and dryer, with our wildlife I acted and glaciers and perma-frost melting. Third, most of us don't watch Discovery/History Ch shows about the state -- THAT'S NOT US that you see. Rather, we are all just Americans who work, play, pray, sing and rest JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. That's rarely the message I see on the promo's.

    Then last, thanks for visiting, and please do so again. Go and do something different. Go fishing for halibut, climb Flattop Mt, ride the AK railroad, take a class on Alaskan wild flowers and maybe most important, get to know us. Take your time. Share a meal or a beer. You'll begin to see that, rather than a destination, we're just your (northern) neighbors. -- Richard

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    1. When we come back I'd like to take the time to explore the Kenai Peninsula, visit Anchorage, Denali Park, and stop in Skagway again. It looked like such a friendly, pleasant place. We met some folks but they were all connected to the various land tours we took. Spending time with locals is something both my wife and I enjoy.

      Yes, the Discovery channel makes Alaska look as if it is populated by wild people (like Ice Road Truckers, etc) or misfits. I am quite sure that is not representative.

      Thanks, Richard.

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  17. Bob, when checking out cruises to take,make sure you consider a European river cruise in the mix. With only 100-120 passengers on board they are more intimate personal then the big cruise ships. My wife and I have taken cruises on both the Rhine (from Basal to Amsterdam) and the Danube (from Budapest to Passau). They were wonderful and because there are so few passengers we got to know many of them both at meals (which were spectacular) and on excursions). We're already planning another river cruise for 2017 in France.

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    1. Yes, river cruises are on our radar, for the reasons you mentioned. Like any cruise, you still only have to unpack once, but your scenery changes every few minutes. There are some amazing itineraries available.

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